One in five Americans have an error on their credit report, according to a Federal Trade Commission study from 2012, so it’s not unlikely you’ll discover one yourself at some point. These errors can range in severity, from misspelled names to fraudulent accounts that can damage your credit score.
No matter what the problems are, don’t fret — you can correct these mistakes.
“Federal law, specifically the Fair Credit Reporting Act, or FCRA, allows consumers to dispute information on their credit reports,” Susan Chana, senior director of public relations for Equifax, said in an email. “A consumer may dispute any item of information contained in his or her file with a Credit Reporting Agency directly by mailing in a letter, contacting the CRA by phone or by using the CRA’s online dispute process.”
David Blumberg, public relations director for TransUnion, added, “If [the inaccurate information] appears on multiple companies’ reports, contact each of them.”
How to Dispute Items
The first step in finding what needs to be disputed is pulling your credit report, which you can get for free once a year on AnnualCreditReport.com. Once you have your report, be sure to go through each item and check it for accuracy.
“I would prioritize the items you are going to challenge on your report,” John C. Heath, credit expert and attorney for Lexington Law, a Credit.com partner, said in an email. “I would first challenge items like collections and late fees, and then move on from there to other items that may be affecting your credit score.”
Once you’ve done this, you’ll need to file an official dispute with each of the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian.
What You Can Dispute
Technically, you can dispute anything on your credit report, but disputing accurate information may not get you very far. The purpose of the dispute is to get incorrect or unfair information removed from your credit reports. Here are some examples of common errors.
Incorrect Personal Information: This can include the wrong name, wrong addresses and wrong employment information. It might just be a clerical error, or your information may be mixed up with someone else’s. Incorrect personal information could also indicate something as severe as identity theft.
Account Mistakes: You can compare the account information on your credit reports with the account statements provided by your creditor, and you can dispute any discrepancies. For example, if you’ve always paid your student loans on time, but your credit report lists the account as 30 days past due, that’s something to dispute.
Fair Credit Reporting Act Violations: Negative information can only remain on your credit report for a specific amount of time. In most cases, that’s 7 years and 180 days from the date the account first became delinquent. (The exact time frame depends on what type of account it is.)
Derogatory Marks: Paying a past-due bill or a collection account won’t automatically remove it from your credit report, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it. If you feel a derogatory mark on your credit report is unfairly damaging your credit, like several collection accounts for the same debt, you could try to get the items removed, even though they’re not technically inaccurate.
You can address issues on your own or turn to a reputable credit repair company for help. Just know that improving your report may not happen as quickly as you might like.
“Repairing your credit is not an immediate or overnight process,” Heath said. “It takes time. I think that it is important to be patient and, in some cases, persistent.”